Safe Schools: Utilizing Youth Leadership for Data Integration and Program Development
A Peer-to-Peer youth leadership model that has been identified by the California Department of Education and WestEd to be included in the pool of experts as a resource for the Safe and Supportive School grantees is the PLUS Program (Peer Leaders Uniting Students). PLUS is a systematic model that utilizes peer-to-peer facilitated activities to build student connections, while simultaneously gathering student behavior data to guide program development. PLUS serves as the liaison between safe school intervention teams and the student body of a school. The PLUS Program systematically helps schools build a safe school climate throughout the school year. Former Secretary of Education Dr. Dave Long states, “When it comes to building a Safe School Climate, the PLUS Program is on the frontline as a systematic approach for schools to gather data and build true connections for all students.”
How does it Work?
A team of student leaders are identified and trained in the facilitation strategies to implement the activities of the PLUS Program. These student leaders represent a diverse cross section of the student body and become identified as the PLUS Team. By participating in the PLUS Training the student leaders and advisors learn how to utilize a series of activities that create a culture of connections, care, community and communication on campus. A safe school is the result of how students treat and take care of one another when the adults are not present. The PLUS Program creates activities on a campus that foster student connections and a commitment in the student body to take care of their peers, whether they are in the halls, locker room or on a bus ride home.
At the center of this activity based curriculum is a peer-to-peer student led forum that creates an opportunity for young people to be empowered to engage in discussions, bond with one another, and identify their critical issues that are impacting their campus climate. The trained student leaders use a series of activities that enable them to:
1. Identify the critical issues on campus,
2. Discover how those issues impact students on the campus,
3. Come up with solutions together to what they can do about those issues on campus.
The PLUS forums serve two powerful purposes for schools.
1. The forum activity creates a Pro-Social Bonding moment.
The conversations among students create social understanding and opportunities for young people to foster their pro-social norms. Participants of the forum will identify the critical issues on their campus, discuss how the identified critical issues impact their campus, and discover what can the students do together to address the critical issues on their campus. Simply put, it gives students the opportunity for their voice to be heard amongst the peers in their community. The forums create personal campuses where students understand and value the other students are on their campus. The forum serves as a rite of passage for all participants into the PLUS identity. All students going through a PLUS forum will become part of the PLUS program identity thus creating a connection to a positive peer group on campus who will serve to create meaningful activities for students to participate in.
2. The activities outlined in the Forum will enable schools to gather, both quantitative and qualitative data.
By gathering data and assessing student behavior on a regular basis, student leadership programs and safe school committees will know which critical issues they need to target with their program development throughout a school year. Schools implementing the PLUS Program will have unlimited access to the PLUS Program Surveys Database. This database will enable schools to create their own surveys and trend specific critical issues identified as part of the program development. Simply put, the PLUS Program localizes data and gives schools a true pulse of student behavior on their campus.
Data Integration and Program Development
The data gathered from the PLUS Forums will be stored in the online survey database. By gathering data, student leadership programs and site administrators will be able to trend specific critical issues throughout the school year. School leadership programs are trained in how to identify critical issues that need to be addressed within their calendar of activities. The forums along with the online database will serve as a tool for schools and communities to assess whether or not the activities they are implementing are making an impact on the critical issues identified. By implementing PLUS, the overall program development of a school or community will be guided by the identified areas of need discovered through the implementation the PLUS Forums and the results found in the data assessment.
The power of the PLUS Program is that it grows a little different in every community. Students leadership programs are challenged to innovate new ideas, strategies, and activities to tackle the critical issues in their community. Different programs will be guided in different directions. What direction a program goes throughout the year will be dictated by the findings in the forums. Some schools will end up identifying bullying as a critical issue, while others might find the need to address alcohol and substance abuse. Whatever the issue, schools and communities implementing the PLUS Program will have a tool in place that will guide them in the right direction for their program development.
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